TOYOTA Racing experienced thrilling highs and extreme lows during an eventful Le Mans 24 Hours which ended in the 11th hour.
An impressive start to the team’s first race saw the TS030 HYBRIDs fighting at the front, reaching a pinnacle when Nicolas Lapierre, sharing the #7 with Alex Wurz and Kazuki Nakajima, took the lead as the six-hour mark approached.
However, the team’s joy at seeing its super capacitor-based hybrid powertrain lead the field was ended only seconds later due to a heavy accident for Anthony Davidson in the #8 he drove alongside Stéphane Sarrazin and Sébastien Buemi.
He was hit by a lapped car and suffered heavy impact with the tyre barriers at Mulsanne Corner, which comes at the end of the Mulsanne Straight when cars reach a top speed of more than 330km/h.
After getting out of the car on his own, he was taken to the circuit medical centre suffering from shock and back pain. Despite no obvious injuries, he was taken to hospital for checks which revealed breaks to his T11 and T12 vertebrae.
Those injuries are expected to heal fully in approximately three months and he will remain in hospital until Monday.
A safety car period followed that incident and, when the green flags waved, Kazuki fought for the lead. However he was also unlucky with lapped traffic and made contact with another car, causing a puncture and rear bodywork damage.
That began a challenging period for the team, with several problems losing the #7 significant time in the pits as the crew worked hard to achieve the target of taking the chequered flag.
However, an engine failure after 10-and-a-half hours forced the difficult decision to retire the #7 and end TOYOTA Racing’s first race prematurely.
Having proven the performance of its TS030 HYBRID chassis and TOYOTA HYBRID System - Racing in one of motorsport’s toughest races, the team will return to action with confidence at the WEC Six Hours of Silverstone on 26 August.
Yoshiaki Kinoshita, Team President: “Right now our emotion is one of sadness. Our best wishes are with Anthony, who is a fantastic colleague and a positive force in our team. We strongly hope he recovers very soon and we’re sorry we could not provide a result to cheer him up from the #7 car, which suffered firstly an alternator problem and then an engine failure. After all the hard work to get to this point, it really hurts to see both cars retire early. But in the next days we will look back on the first six hours of the race and feel great pride that we could lead Le Mans in our very first race. That is a remarkable achievement with such pioneering technology and this motivates us to push harder than ever to bring home some trophies in the remainder of the season.”
TS030 HYBRID #7 (Alex Wurz, Nicolas Lapierre, Kazuki Nakajima)
Hour 1 (Alex): 3rd (+44.655secs) / Hour 2 (Alex, Nicolas): 4th (+2mins 28.615secs) / Hour 3 (Nicolas): 2nd (+52.281secs) / Hour 4 (Nicolas): 3rd (+1min 19.629secs) / Hour 5 (Nicolas): 1st / Hour 6 (Nicolas, Kazuki): 2nd (+6.368secs) / Hour 7 (Kazuki): 19th (+8 laps) / Hour 8 (Kazuki): 46th (+25 laps) / Hour 9 (Kazuki, Alex): 47th (+29 laps) / Hour 10 (Alex): 46th (+30 laps) / Hour 11 (Alex): retired (engine).
Alex Wurz: “Despite the disappointment on track, the most important matter is Anthony and I wish him well. We have seen some positive aspects of our car, which showed a good level of performance. We have also seen where we need to improve; this race has shown us some important lessons we can work on in the coming weeks. I was a little surprise to see our rivals not getting faster, but it is a nice reward for everybody to lead the Le Mans 24 Hours at our first attempt. We have really shown a strong pace and gained some interesting information.”
Nicolas : “I am disappointed to see the team retiring with both cars but on the other hand I think we can be happy with our level of performance. We have been fighting with the leaders with both cars which is a great achievement. We need to improve our reliability, which we knew anyway after a short testing programme before this race; the program is young and that was our first race. We did a good qualifying and a great start in the race. I am also thinking about Anthony; above all right now the main thing is that he recovers quickly.”
Kazuki Nakajima: “I was sad to hear about Anthony’s injury and, like the whole team I hope he gets well soon. It was a real disappointment to end the race early; our dream was to see the chequered flag. We had a good start but during my stint I had contact with another car after the safety car period and then right after that we found an unrelated problem. We lost time there. I did some night running in difficult conditions; I had a flat spot on one tyre and big vibrations. It was difficult to get the temperature into the tyres and I struggled a bit to get them to work.”
TS030 HYBRID #8 (Stéphane Sarrazin, Anthony Davidson, Sébastien Buemi)
Hour 1 (Stéphane): 4th (+50.580secs) / Hour 2 (Stéphane, Sébastien): 5th (+2mins 42.705secs) / Hour 3 (Sébastien): 3rd (1min 9.200secs) / Hour 4 (Sébastien): 2nd (+1min 16.333secs) / Hour 5 (Sébastien, Anthony): 4th (+1 lap / Hour 6 (Anthony): retired (accident).
Stéphane Sarrazin: “Firstly I am relieved that Anthony got out of such an accident and I hope he gets better quickly. Regarding the race, the car was competitive and after being cautious at the beginning, we were really on the pace. We were in a very good rhythm, with both cars in top three. For a car that has made is first laps only a few months ago, it is amazing to be at this level at Le Mans. There is some disappointment, of course, but we have to take the positives out of this experience.”
Sébastien Buemi: “It was an unbelievable day for me to start Le Mans for the first time and we gave a great performance until the accident. The car was really quick and we were giving the leaders a lot of problems. So that is definitely the positive to take out of this race for us because it shows we already have a very strong car. This should give a lot of motivation and excitement to the team. It was amazing; I really enjoyed it. The team worked so hard and we deserved much better than what we got but at least we showed what we are capable of by leading the race. For Anthony I am really disappointed; we look forward to him being back as soon as possible.”